Each year, we are all probably planning how to improve ourselves. Whether we want to be healthier, happier, more productive, less stressed, or even have better relationships and contribute more to society, we need to prepare for it. Fortunately, there is an easy way to reprogram our brains to help us achieve our new year resolutions, and that’s having an attitude of gratitude.

We all have probably heard about the many benefits of being grateful, but what is truly remarkable is how gratitude can reshape our brains to help us achieve long-lasting results. 

The benefits of having an attitude of gratitude

We now have numerous studies and research that prove the incredible benefits of being grateful. 

These are some of the benefits and research of having an attitude of gratitude:

  • It helps strengthen relationships, and couples studies showed that it could help couples have a long-lasting relationship (Algoe, 2012).
  • It can also reduce or prevent burnout, and it helps reduce anxiety and depression. 
  • It fosters adaptive coping mechanisms, improving our emotional resilience and inner strength (Gloria & Steinhardt, 2016).
  • It helps team cohesiveness in the workplace. Individuals who practise gratitude are more likely to take more responsibility at work and go that extra mile. In turn, it improves productivity and teamwork. 
  • It helps to cultivate altruism. It increases generosity, helpfulness and empathy towards others (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002). Being grateful is linked to an increased level of concern for social responsibility. “gratitude rewards generosity and maintains the cycle of healthy social behaviour” (Bergland, 2015)
  • It links to life satisfaction and self-esteem, making people more optimistic about their future (McCullough et al., 2002) & (Lin, 2015).

But the most crucial benefit of all for us, is how it impacts our brains and how we can use gratitude as a way to reshape them. 

How does being grateful impact our brains?

  • It releases dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters, two essential neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions; they make us feel good. 
  • It reduces our cortisol level, the stress hormone, so it helps decrease stress.  
  • It creates and triggers new neuronal connections in the brain's "bliss" centre, making us feel happier.
  • It activates the medial prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with managing negative emotions, which makes it easier for us to deal with difficult situations. 
  • This area of the brain is also associated with “neural pure altruism”, so it makes our brain crave the experience of giving.  
  • Regulates the hypothalamus, allowing us to sleep better and wake up with more energy.
  • It helps with cognitive restructuring by practising positive thinking. This means we will be more prone to notice and focus on the positive things moving forward. 

These are some fantastic effects for something as easy as being grateful in our optimist opinion. Furthermore, gratitude not only has a short-term influence on our brain, but it also has a long-term effect, even if we simply practise it for a short time. 

How does being grateful become a tool to reprogram our brains?

Our brains have the ability to develop new neural connections throughout our lives. This is called Neuroplasticity, and it’s why we are able to learn new things and even recover from brain injuries. 

In addition, there is a saying in neuroscience; “the neurons that fire together, wire together”. This means the more we use these connections, the stronger they become. And therefore, the easier it’s to activate them in the future, making them a habit. 

So, in order to reprogram our brains for long-term gain, all we need to do is create the habit of gratitude. 

Furthermore, because the neurotransmitters, neural connections and brain regions that gratitude activates in our brains are all linked to our reward system, being grateful functions as its own positive reinforcement, making it easier to create the habit of gratitude.

3 easy ideas to cultivate an attitude of gratitude

Here are three simple strategies to cultivate an attitude of gratitude that have been proven to work, one of them actually by ourselves. 

  1. Have grateful thoughts first thing in the morning or last thing at night. 
  2. Keep a gratitude journal. As easy as writing three things you’re grateful for each day or people you are grateful to have in your life. Simply write down all the things you are thankful for. 
  3. Write gratitude notes. Write thank-you notes to the people you value in your life. You don’t need to share them with them, but it has been proven to have an even more significant impact.

About the Author:

Ollie Phillips is the founder of Optimist Performance, a company specialising in performance coaching, leadership, and behavioural change. www.optimistperformance.com

Former World Rugby 7s Player of the Year and England captain, Ollie Phillips firmly believes that it’s okay not to be okay, as he experienced first-hand whilst experiencing depression after hanging up his boots.

After a glittering career, where he was literally voted as the best player in the world, Ollie was left searching for meaning and not understanding his new focus and purpose. He found that talking about it, seeing a therapist, helped and was a huge part of his evolution and growth.

Ollie joined PWC as a director within the real estate and construction team and developed Imposter Syndrome -as a result of going from a rugby player into a major firm like PWC, not really having much credibility on anything in that environment.

Ollie learnt a lot from transition – what he struggled with and how he adapted and moulded to where he is now. He very much so focuses on the belief; Attitude is Gratitude and wants to help people realise that it is possible to be grateful for what you have, but that it's okay not to be okay. We have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

He also found that his many adventures around the world massively helped. He’s claimed world records, climbed Everest and Kilimanjaro and raised millions of pounds for charity. His adventures also gave him something to focus on, be distracted by and helped transition from reality of no longer being a rugby player.